A Tibetan from Kham, Sonam Tsering, who was featured prominently in Chinese official footage of the March 14, 2008 riots in Lhasa brandishing a knife, has been sentenced to death, suspended for two years. Five other Tibetans were sentenced to terms ranging from three to seven years for attempting to shelter him, according to a report in the official newspaper, the Lhasa Evening News (May 25). A full translation of the article from the original Chinese is included below.

On March 14, 2008, when three days of peaceful protests turned to violence for several hours before the Chinese authorities cracked down on demonstrators, Sonam Tsering, a Tibetan in his twenties, was captured in video footage standing on the roof of a police car and waving what the Lhasa Evening News calls a “controlled blade” above his head while shouting encouragement to a crowd of rioters in the area around him, according to the Lhasa Evening News report. After March 14, Sonam Tsering (Chinese transliteration: Silang Zeren) was on a police most wanted list, but was not arrested until October, 2009.

The news of the sentencing of five other Tibetans, possibly including Sonam Tsering’s brother and sister, indicates that several Tibetans took considerable risks to shelter him after March, 2008. Information about his detention on October 14, 2009, reached ICT a month later, and made it clear that there were serious fears for Sonam Tsering’s safety. Sonam Tsering is from Dege in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province, the Tibetan area of Kham, although he was residing in Lhasa.

All five of the Tibetans detained with him, named in the report as Zhaxi Quxhen [Tashi Choedon], Geyong [Kelyong], Zhenyong [Tayong], Zeweng Niumai [Tsewang Gyurmey] and Yixi Cuomu [Yeshe Tsomo], were also from Kardze. According to an ICT source, two of the defendants convicted of either harboring Sonam Tsering or trying to arrange for his escape abroad, Tsewang Gyurmey and Tashi Choedon, are Sonam Tsering’s brother and sister.

Sonam Tsering is the seventh Tibetan known to have been sentenced to death following the March 2008 protests, and of those, the fifth to have been given a suspended death sentence. The other two people who were sentenced to death, Lobsang Gyaltsen and Loyak, were executed in October, 2009 having been convicted of arson. (ICT report, Official confirmation of execution of Tibetans in Lhasa – October 26, 2009). The Lhasa Evening News report states that the death sentence was suspended in the case of Sonam Tsering because he showed “remorse” and should be given an opportunity for “rehabilitation.”

Suspended death sentences under the Chinese judicial system are usually commuted to life imprisonment after the two-year period of suspension has passed, with executions only known to have been carried out if the prisoner committed a particularly serious crime while in prison during the period of suspension, such as attacking a prison guard or killing another prisoner.

A translation into English by ICT of the report announcing the latest sentencing is below. The sentencing to death of Sonam Tsering was carried out in the context of a severe crackdown that began last year following the wave of mainly peaceful protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau from March 10, 2008. The Chinese authorities sought to represent the unprecedented unrest across the Tibetan plateau over the past year as one violent riot, referring solely to the events of March 14, 2008, and replaying the official footage on state television. But the overwhelming majority of protests since March 2008 have been peaceful, with state repression and the hardening of the Chinese government’s position on the Dalai Lama have created deepening tension in Tibet. ICT report, A Great Mountain Burned by Fire).

Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court publicly passes sentences in cases of looting and harboring a criminal

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Lhasa Evening News, May 25, 2010

In recent days, Lhasa City Intermediate People’s Court held an open trial of the defendant Silang Zeren [Sonam Tsering] for looting, and five other defendants including Geyong [Kelyon] for harboring a criminal, and passed judgment in the first instance.

The court confirmed that on the afternoon of March 14, 2008, the defendant Silang Zeren brandished a controlled blade in the Barkhor, shouted reactionary slogans, encouraged others to cause trouble, and led a group of people participating in the trouble-making along the Barkhor and into Jokhang Square. Having led a group of trouble-making people close to the north side of Jokhang Square, Silang Zeren climbed onto the roof of a parked police vehicle, loudly shouted reactionary slogans, encouraged the surrounding lawless elements to participate in trouble-making while brandishing a blade and hacking into the police vehicle. With Silang Zeren’s incitement and leadership, more than 100 lawless elements turned the police vehicle over and set it alight, then carried out a sequence of looting activities around Jokhang Square leading to the destruction of numerous vehicles and shops, and creating economic losses of more than 40 million yuan [US $5.85 million]. After committing these crimes, Silang Zeren was harbored at the homes of Zhaxi Quzhen [Tashi Choedon] and Geyong [Kelyon] etc, before being detained by Public Security organs.

The court considers that the defendant Silang Zeren actively participated in mass beating, smashing, looting and burning, took a lead role among the mob of criminals, was a major element directing criminals’ beating, smashing, looting and burning close to Lhasa’s Jokhang Square, that Silang Zeren should be responsible for 40 million yuan in economic losses caused by the beating, smashing, looting and burning in the area around Jokhang Square, and that his actions violated the provisions of Article 289 and Article 263 of “The Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China,” constituting the crime of looting. Furthermore, the number of crimes committed was extremely large and the crimes were extremely serious. In view of the fact he has shown remorse and in order to grant him the opportunity for rehabilitation, according to law he was sentenced to death suspended for two years, denied political rights for life, and all of his personal property was confiscated. In the full knowledge that the defendant Silang Zeren was a wanted criminal, the defendants Zhaxi Quxhen [Tashi Choedon], Geyong [Kelyong], Zhenyong [Tayong], Zeweng Niumai [Tsewang Gyurmey] and Yixi Cuomu [Yeshe Tsomo] either provided him with harbor or goods, or provided him with assistance to escape over the border, all of which violated the provisions of Article 310, Clause 1 of the “Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China,” constituting the crime of harboring a criminal. Considering the sincere repentance of all five defendants, and in accordance with the scale of their roles, they were sentenced to varying fixed terms of imprisonment between three and seven years.

It is understood that all courtroom activities were carried out in strict accordance with legal procedure, that all six defendants were assigned Tibetan lawyers to undertake their legal defense, and that two Tibetan translators were hired to undertake interpreting. The defendants’ procedural rights were fully protected. More than 50 people of various nationalities and from various circles in Lhasa Municipality sat in on proceedings.